Whether or not the Historical Horse Racing bill approved last week by the Kentucky General Assembly would allow HHR wagering at the McCracken County-owned Carson Park is an open question.
The subject came up briefly during the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce’s Frankfort Forum last Thursday.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, among the state officials featured in the Zoom forum, mentioned the HHR bill in his remarks, updating the chamber audience on some of the current legislation.
The forum was designed to highlight the chamber’s legislative priorities, although HHR is not one of them.
Thayer, a co-sponsor of SB 120, said with its anticipated passage, “we’re really on the cusp of something really great here. We need to be known not just for the Kentucky Derby and the two meets at Keeneland, but as a great year-round circuit.”
Historical horse racing machines are pari-mutuel machines that resemble slot machines in appearance, he said, responding to a question on the current situation in Kentucky.
They are programmed using a database of thousands of previously-run races where the bettor makes wagers on those races and the winning numbers are determined by who finishes first, second and third. They are regulated by the Kentucky Racing Commission.
“For the last 10 years, until last fall, the courts supported the (HHR) machine as a pari-mutuel machine, just like the live or simulcast wagering,” Thayer said in response to a question.
“Last fall, the Supreme Court made what I feel was a wrong decision and ruled that they (HHR machines) were not pari-mutuel, until the General Assembly passed a bill that says they are. That’s basically what SB 120 does, it says that historic horse racing is included in the definition.”
Thayer was asked if a racetrack not currently operating, like Carson Park, could be included in HHR. He said it appeared the license to operate, formerly held by Bluegrass Downs, was still available and “an operator could try to bring that back if they chose do do so. That’s certainly something somebody might want to look into.”
McCracken County Commissioner Eddie Jones said he contacted area legislators last week about the possibility of having an amendment to the bill introduced that would specifically mention the inclusion of Carson Park as an approved facility for historical horse racing.
While an amendment was not forthcoming, “it (including Carson Park) could be done after the fact if you could convince the horse racing commission, which is made up of people from the ‘Golden Triangle’ (Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati/northern Kentucky),” Jones said.
“I would have liked to have kept the horse industry option open for McCracken County. The process will be significantly more complicated and we will have to go beg for permission from people who do not typically give things to our region.”
State Rep. Randy Bridges, whose district includes Paducah, said he was contacted about a possible amendment, “but by the time we found out about it was way too late (in the process). It’s something that should have been looked at far in advance.”
Bridges said he also has concerns about the constitutionality of the bill that was passed, since the Supreme Court decision only had to do with one of the machines (by a certain manufacturer), and establishing the definition of pari-mutuel.
“So now that the legislation has defined pari-mutuel betting, now within the next year or so, it will probably be questioned by the court again,” he said. “At this point, I foresee there’s going to be more lawsuits. I voted ‘no’ on it because I’m still concerned that we’re going against the Constitution.”